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Authors: Jim Shepard

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BOOK: You Think That's Bad
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Tsuburaya repaired the feet himself with cotton swabs and a glue pot and a fine brush while Nakajima drank tea and enjoyed the break. Handcraftsmanship justified itself as an expression of intimacy with the world. Honda made jokes about the number of people standing around on salary, but Tsuburaya reminded him that the potter accepted long hours at the kiln with his body and soul.

“That's good to know,” Honda responded. “But in the meantime, nobody gets to eat.”

Mori mounted a publicity blitz four full weeks before the release, including an eleven-installment radio serial, and by the premiere their monster's face glowered down from every bus and tramway stop, and a nearly full-sized Gojira balloon swayed and bowed in the wind over an automobile dealership in the Ginza district.

It worked:
Gojira
recorded the best opening-day ticket sales in Tokyo's history and had a better first week than Kurosawa's
Seven Samurai
. “It's like a dream!” Akira shrieked at the showing his family attended, and Masano watched the destruction in respectful silence. Some of the older audience members left the theater in tears.

Mori had already begun to arrange the sequel. Since
Gojira
ended with the scientist's warning that if the world continued with nuclear weapons there would someday appear another such monster, the sequel would involve two: Gojira and his bitter enemy, yet to be designed. One possibility for the latter appeared to Tsuburaya in a dream the night after the premiere, a gigantic tussock moth rendered with enough scientific accuracy that its face and mouth parts were horrific. In the dream it was obsessed with two magical
little girls. Tsuburaya even glimpsed the teaser line: “The Mightiest Monster in All Creation—Ravishing a Universe for Love.”

American investors had already won the auction for
Gojira
's international rights and decided to add new footage involving an American reporter trapped in Tokyo during the rampage, in order to give Western audiences someone for whom to care. They announced they were also going to tone down the nuclear references. They retitled it
Godzilla
, and added the subtitle
King of the Monsters
.

A month after the premiere, Tsuburaya walked home alone late one December night, bundled against the cold. In the fishmonger's shop the dried bonito looked like whetstones in the window. He stopped at a sushi stall for some boiled rice with vinegar.

The boy who served him had a bamboo crest motif on his coat and he asked why Tsuburaya was smiling. Tsuburaya nearly told him that in all of his work he'd always been looking for the patterns that were an object's essence, and that on the boy's coat the bamboo was an emblem of the living bamboo there inside it. The best patterns became the nation's communal property, like that bamboo or England's lion. Or his monster.

The boy suddenly asked why he was weeping. He said he was weeping for all that he'd been granted, and for everything he'd thrown away, then thanked the boy for his concern.

In his toast at the dinner following the premiere, Honda had noted that Tsuburaya's success was centered around his talent for developing a team and uncaging each member's skills. He joked that Tsuburaya led by example and cajoling and intimidation, that for him nothing was ever perfect and no one was ever finished, and he got a laugh by concluding that a day with Tsuburaya was like four with Kurosawa, in terms of consigning someone ever more irrevocably to misery.

For Tsuburaya on nights like that December night, a long walk meant an even later arrival. In his father's childhood, after sunset,
villages were dark and quiet and cold. A gong might call worshippers to the candlelit temple. A dog might bark. Otherwise what one saw and heard was up to the moonlight and wind.

Masano hadn't spoken to him about the movie, though she had told Hajime that by the end she'd been moved by how profoundly it had affected the other patrons her age. That December night, the moment Tsuburaya finally arrived at home, Hajime announced he was leaving to work on a picture in Malaysia. Masano stopped serving from her platter and looked at her husband as though all had been fine before he'd come in. “There he is with his warm smile,” she finally said to Hajime. “Orchestrating his catastrophes.”

“This wasn't his idea; it was mine,” Hajime answered.

Akira stood up from the table and ran from the room, distraught at his brother's announcement.

“We'll be sorry to see you go,” Tsuburaya told his son.

“The only thing you're sorry about is a production delay,” Masano told him, and Tsuburaya remembered that crows supposedly couldn't feel the sun's heat because they'd already been scorched black.

She went off to see to Akira, and Hajime finished his meal in silence. Tsuburaya retired to his study and noted that the nowhere in which he chose to dwell was the abode of perfect focus. He was like the blind old teacher who never knew to stop lecturing when the breeze blew out the light.

He told Hajime this story at the station the next day while they waited for the train. That he had difficulty keeping his son's attention made him as sad as the departure. Hajime finally said that he'd rarely heard Tsuburaya talk so much before. The train pulled in, and they were silent while the arriving passengers streamed off. They might both have been imagining Akira, back in his room alone.

“Your brother's going to be very sad to see you go,” Tsuburaya finally said.

This seemed to irk Hajime. “When did I become the villain?” he asked.

“No one's calling you a villain,” Tsuburaya told him.

Hajime handed his bag up to the porter. “You know who you've always reminded me of?” he asked. “Prince Konoye. The two of you, actually.” Then he climbed the steps to the car.

Tsuburaya was too surprised to respond. He did manage to ask Hajime if he had enough money, but the porter's departure call distracted them both and the train pulled out. Once it gathered some momentum Hajime waved, once, before his car passed out of sight around the curve with surprising speed.

Tsuburaya was left on the platform, where he remained after the other well-wishers had left. The wind swept a seed pod of some sort onto his foot.

Konoye had been Prime Minister before the attack on Pearl Harbor. He'd always understood what war with America would mean but with each new step toward destruction had lacked the will to insist that the nation do what was right. The joke about him had been that he was so perpetually unsure of his intentions he sometimes got lost en route to the toilet.

Tsuburaya and Masano had talked about Konoye more than once, especially after his death. She'd been very upset about it, in fact. He had poisoned himself before his arrest by the Americans, leaving behind in his room only his family seal and a book, the newspapers had reported. In the book, written by the Englishman Oscar Wilde, Konoye had underlined a single passage, as if he'd hoped to make his amends in pencil:
Nobody great or small can be ruined except by his own hand, and terrible as was what the world did to me, even more terrible still was what I did to myself
.

Boys Town

Here's the story of
my
life: whatever I did wasn't good enough, anything I figured out I figured out too late, and whenever I tried to help I made things worse. That's what it's been like for me as far back as I can remember. Whenever I was about to get somewhere, something would step in and block me. Whenever I was about to finally have something, something would happen to take it away.

“The story of
your
life is that you're not to blame for anything,” my mother always said when I told her that. “Out of everybody on earth, you're the only one who never did anything wrong. Whatever happens, it's always somebody else's fault.”

“It
is
always somebody else's fault,” I told her.

“Poor you,” she always said back. “Screwed by the world.”

“Hey, Dr. Jägermeister's calling,” I used to tell her. “Bottoms up.” And she'd just go back to whatever she was watching.

“So what's the deal with dinner?” sometimes I'd say. “You have a busy day?”

“Go to Pizza Hunt,” she'd tell me.

“That's
Hut
, you fucking idiot,” I'd tell her back. And then she'd say something else wrong the next time, just to frost my ass.

I was thirty-nine years old and living with my mother. I hadn't had a good year.

“What was your last good year?” my friend Owen asked me. “Nineteen ninety-two?”

He wasn't doing too well himself, but he managed to come over once or twice a week to eat whatever we had lying around.

I made some comment about whatever it was we were watching and he said, “What do you like? Do you like anything?”

“He likes to complain,” my mother told him. “He likes to make trouble.”

I
liked to complain. I almost choked.

What did I like? I liked my dog. I liked hunting in the woods. I liked target shooting. I liked my kid, when I was first getting to know him. I liked women who weren't all about money or what I planned to do with my future.

“It'd be different if you ever got laid,” Owen said during a commercial. My mother snorted.

“Hey, you're the one with the hand in your pants,” I said.

“Now he's going to tell us about Stacey,” my mother told him. But I didn't say a word.

My kid was down there in Stacey's house a thousand miles away. I was supposed to send checks but otherwise not come around more than once or twice a year. I mean, try to cram a whole year's worth of family time into one week. Maybe it'd work for you but it didn't for me.

Stacey said the kid was asking where his dad was, and that if I wanted to see him I had to send money. It got so I let my mother answer when she called. They'd stay on the phone telling each other stories about me. “You think
that's
bad,” my mother would say.

A guy in Basic told me that girls who weren't good-looking were the smart move because they were more grateful and weren't as likely to run off with somebody, and that made sense to me. I met Stacey at Fort Sill and liked her family better than her. I was a 71 Gulf, which is like a clerk, hospital stuff, administrative. She was, too. I'd be dropping off discharge batches and she kept her head down when I teased her, but I could see her smile.

We went out for a year and five months and then we got married and had a kid. She was always saying she was going to move
out but she finally did the deed when I pushed her down the stairs. She was all like “You coulda killed me,” and I was like, “Hey: you shoved
me
first, and there was a railing, and there was carpet.” She said, “You don't shove somebody at the top of the stairs,” and I said, “Well what did you do to me?” And the cop who showed up was a guy who had a crush on her in high school and he was all, “You can't be with this person. You want to press charges?”

He's standing over her while she's crying at the kitchen table and I'm in the den thinking,
Why don't you rub her fucking back?
And she was all Miss Generous: “No, just get him out of here. I don't feel safe.”

Out here in the fucking sticks you don't meet anybody. I went to this singles' social in the basement rec room of the church. You had to fill out forms so they could match people up. These two women were running the thing. They asked if I could read and write. When they saw my face they said it was just a question on the form.

But then I always reminded myself I didn't have it so bad. Our next-door neighbor's nineteen-year-old had some kind of thing, muscular dystrophy maybe, and they told her kids like him only lived to be about twenty-one. When she came over for coffee with my mother, she told us to pray that his heart muscle stopped before his lungs, because that'd be a less horrible way to go.

I had all kinds of jobs. If it was some fucking thing no one else wanted to do, I did it. I worked in a hospital laundry. I washed pots and pans. I separated metals in a scrapyard. I drove a shuttle. That job had a little pin that came with it that said
Martin, for Comfort Inn
. Whenever I said stuff to my mother like I could see why my dad walked out, she'd go, “Where's your pin? Don't lose your pin.”

I started thinking I should just go off the grid. You know, if I wasn't using anything or spending anything, I didn't need to make anything. I'd grow my own garden and shit. In the winter there'd still be rabbits and deer. I'd work out. Read a book. Improve my mind, unlike the other fucking imbeciles around here.

“Who says you're not using anything or spending anything?”
my mother said when I told her. “
Somebody's
cleaning out the refrigerator every two days.”

“That'd be your friend Owen,” I said. “Your TV pal.”


My
friend Owen?” she said. “He doesn't come over to see me.”

“Well, I never asked him to come over and see me,” I told her.

“So why's he come?” my mother said.

“Because he's a fucking
bum
, like me,” I told her. “ 'Cause he's got nothing else to do with himself.”

“All right, all right,” she said. “Don't get excited.”

“Don't get excited,” I said.

“Don't get excited,” she said. “Put that down.”

The Comfort Inn was my last job. I took two days off to go to my grandmother's funeral and they never let me forget it. The week I was back even when I did a good job on something all I heard was You never told anybody you weren't coming in, you didn't let us know we were supposed to cover for you, you left us holding the bag. I'm working and the supervisor's just standing there running me down instead of doing his job. I finally told him that kind of horseshit was all well and good but, you know, it was pretty unprofessional.

BOOK: You Think That's Bad
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